Happy hobos and sad tramps – Character of the tramp and hobo clown

Happy hobos and sad tramps – Character of the tramp and hobo clown

The character clown is widely thought of as the tramp or hobo, but it can encompass many other things. For instance, a cowboy clown, virtually all of Red Skelton’s TV characters (Sheriff Deadeye, Clem Kaddiddlehopper, the mean widdle kid, Cauliflower McPugg, etc.), Carol Burnett’s famous wash woman character, Tim Conway‘s equally famous ‘little old man’ character, Urkel from the TV show “Family Matters,” etc. are all clearly clowns, though definitely not either a whiteface nor an auguste clown. The vast majority of clowns in this category, however, are clearly tramps and hobos.

Red Skelton as his famous hobo clown character, Freddy the FreeloaderThe Tramp clown is a distinctly American invention, although he is now popular in European circuses as well. The most well-known Tramp is clearly Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp,” Red Skelton’s Freddy the Freeloader, or Emmett Kelly’s “Weary Willie.” The generic Tramp character assumes a “down-on-his-luck” approach to life. His costume appears tattered and torn (a performing clown should never have a shabby or unclean costume), and things do not go well for him.

The hobo, on the other hand, has much more of a “devil-may-care” attitude. Although in the same position as the tramp (costuming and make-up may be virtually identical), the hobo is not unhappy about his situation. He knows that everything will turn out all right. A well-known example is Red Skelton‘s clown character, “Freddy the Freeloader.”

Makeup of the Tramp and Hobo clown

Charlie Chaplin as the Little Tramp in his silent short film, His New ProfessionThe Tramp/Hobo make-up can be thought of as a modified version of the Auguste. A skin tone base, with simple accents around the eyes. Depending on the type, you may want to include ‘5 o’clock shadow’, as Red Skelton and Emmett Kelly did—or not, as Charlie Chaplin did. And, of course, the make-up would be different for a ‘bag lady’ characters. As always, the object is to enhance the natural features of the face, never to hide them. The clown takes his or her natural facial features and exaggerates; also, don’t forget that many in your audience (in a walkaround, for example) may be further away—this is why the features are ‘outlined’ – examine Charlie Chaplin’s eyes, or Freddy the Freeloader’s mouth. For more detail on make-up, I recommend Strutter’s Complete Guide to Clown Make-up.

Costume of the Tramp and Hobo clown

The costume of the tramp or hobo would be nearly identical. The costume should look tattered and torn, but be clean. The impression can be of someone slightly down on their luck to someone who lives in the gutter, depending on the clown, character, and skit. For other characters, of course, that will drive the costume—for instance, Clem Kaddiddlehopper’s costume is designed to project the his ‘hayseed’ character visually, a keystone cop would need to project that image, and so on. Again, the costume needs to visually describe the clown’s character to the audience.

History of the Tramp and Hobo clown

The sad tramp/happy hobo are primarily American inventions, though Charlie Chaplin’s “little tramp” had European origins as well. Visually, the happy hobo/sad tramp was based on the American hobo riding the rails, wiping the soot away from the mouth & eyes to create the typical tramp look. Famous tramp & hobo clowns include Don Burda’s HomerCharlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp,Emmett Kelly’s Weary WillyRed Skelton’s Freddy the Freeloader,


14 Responses to “Happy hobos and sad tramps – Character of the tramp and hobo clown”

  1. […] Kelly Sr., the most well-known of the tramp clowns of the circus. His character, Weary Willy, was the perpetual underdog, who never gave up – […]

  2. […] My clown troupe did this in front of our congregation, with excellent results. In our case we had a tramp clown, T-bone, as the master of ceremonies, with the other clowns “ringing in” answers like […]

  3. […] the audience a glimpse of Chaplin playing, not the well-known Little Tramp, but a totally different tramp clown, in some very funny sketches). Calvero fails miserably at his performance, at which point the two […]

  4. […] in 1914, is a milestone in film history.  In it, Charlie Chaplin portrayed his world-famous tramp character for the first time.  A very short film at 6 minutes, it is very funny film, with a film […]

  5. […] character, Freddie the Freeloader, is a happy hobo clown.  Unlike Emmett Kelly’s Weary Willy tramp clown, Freddie the Freeloader had a perpetually upbeat personality, sure that good fortune awaited him […]

  6. […] orphans.  It’s vintage Red Skelton, with Red making the most of his skill with pantomime and his hobo character of Freddie the […]

  7. […] On this DVD are two Christmas episodes of The Red Skelton Show, both featuring Red Skelton’s hobo character, Freddie the Freeloader.  Both are absolute […]

  8. […] to think about as well is the type of clown—is he the Whiteface clown, an Auguste, a character or hobo / tramp clown? Feel free to try all three types (or combinations). In our week at Clown Camp, everyone had to try […]

  9. […] a red ‘dot’ of make-up on their nose, and many more that have no red nose at all. Likewise, Tramp and Hobo clowns don’t necessarily need one (think of Red Skelton‘s Freddy the Freeloader, or Captain […]

  10. […] are three main types of clown faces – whiteface, auguste and character clown (typically tramp or hobo clown), and each has its’ own challenges. Strutter treats each in their own section, talking about […]

  11. […] going from lightest to darkest. In my case, I begin with the white around my eyes & mouth. (a tramp or hobo would be similar, ending with a gray ‘muzzle’ — a whiteface clown would […]

  12. […] he fell in love with the art of clowning. By 1972, he had created his character, Homer, a happy tramp […]

  13. […] Two hobo clowns were waiting at the bus stop along with a nun with her leg in a cast. The first hobo asked, “Sister, how did you break your leg?” […]

  14. […] Hobo Clown: Ouch! Oh, my ear, my ear! White face clown: What’s the matter? Hobo Clown : I just bit my own ear! White face clown: That’s impossible. How can someone bite himself on the ear? Hobo Clown : I was standing on a chair. […]

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